Friday, February 26, 2010

East Coast Agritourism Webinar Series

The first session of the East Coast Agritourism Webinar Series is starting Tuesday, March 2 and its free!

NC State University’s Tourism Extension has teamed with colleagues from Rutgers University to offer a free webinar series on agritourism. The East Coast Agritourism Webinar Series will include five different sessions designed to provide an overview of important information related to agritourism.

Topics include:
  • Introduction to Agritourism (March 2, 2010)
  • Is Agritourism Right for You? (March 9, 2010)
  • Marketing Basics (March 16, 2010)
  • Creating the Customer Experience (March 30, 2010)
  • Social Media 101 (April 6, 2010)

This free webinar series begins in March with a different topic offered each Tuesday from March 2-April 6 at two convenient times, noon-1pm and 7-8pm.

Visit for additional information and for instructions on how to participate.

Also, feel free to contact Dr. Samantha Rich ( or Dr. Stacy Tomas ( for additional information or if you have any questions.

*This webinar series is free, open to anyone, and does not require pre-registration or a microphone.*

FDA Seeks Comments on Fresh Produce Safety

The NC Farm Bureau President, Debbie Hamrick, is in the process of traveling all around NC collecting comments from farmers about the impacts of fresh produce safety regulations on small and medium size farms in NC. Her goal is to submit your concerns, comments, suggestions and experise directly to the folks writing the legislation.

If you would like to submit your comments directly to the Food and Drug Administration, here is your opportunity. This will impact all producers and you should let your thoughts be heard!

From the FDA:
"The Food and Drug Administration has announced that by the end of 2010, the agency will issue a proposed rule to establish safety standards for the production and packaging of produce.

The ultimate purpose for such standards is a goal we all share: to reduce the risk of illness associatied with fresh produce.

The usual process is for FDA to issue a proposed rule and then take comments. But this time, we want to go one step further - we want to actively engage our stakeholders while we're still in the development phase of such a rule.

That's why we have opned a docket (Federal Register notice location: to receive information before a proposed rule is written. Doing it this way will help us develop the scope of the rule to reflect the realities of production and packing in produce operations.

The discussion on this complex and diverse segment of our food supply needs to be fueled and informed by the expertise and on-the-ground knowledge of those who grow, harvest and pack fresh produce.

That's why we need to hear from you. We urge you and your colleagues to think about and submit comments to us under this docket over the next 90 days.

In addition, we hope you will "spread the word" to groups throughout your area of the country and areas of expertise - so that all sectors that may be affected by the rulemaking to come will know this opportuniity to get their views heard and will take advantage of it.

Below are some tips on how to submit comments through You can also submit comments by mail.

Electronically, at

The multi-agency Web site, serves as a clearinghouse for materials related to FDA rulemaking and is FDA's official on-line comment system.

The easiest way to get to the docket is to enter the docket number.

On the homepage, enter the following in the "Keyword" field"


This will take you directly to the docket. "Preventative Controls for Fresh Produce: Request for Comments"

In the far right of the screen under Actions, click on "Submit a Comment". A page will come up asking for some information about you or yoiur organization.

You can then type your comment directly into the field provided and/or you can attach any related documents to your comment.

Press "Submit".
You will be able to view your comment and comments others have submitted.

To submit written comments:
Include docket number at the top of the pages in your written submissions. Again, the docket number is FDA-2010-N-0085.

Mail Comments to
Divisions of Dockets Management
Food and Drup Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, Maryland 20852

The comment period for this docket ends on May 24, 2010"

Please let your voice and opinions and comments be heard! This will affect all vegetable and fruit producers in our country - especially the small and medium sized farms in WNC and throughout the east coast.

To learn more about Fresh Produce Safety, visit the new Fresh Produce Safety Blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pruning Trees at the Biltmore Estate

Last summer, Eli, the Kitchen Garden Manager at the Biltmore Estate, enlisted my help in regards to an old apple orchard on the property. A resident on the property inquired about the trees and hoped that the orchard could be revitalized. Honestly, I do not know much about tree fruits, so I asked Dr. Steve McArtney from the Horticultural Science Department at NCSU to accompany me to the Biltmore Estate to assess the orchard.

When we arrived at the Biltmore Estate orchard, we were greeted by about 160 very large apple trees of unknown varieties. Eli told us that the apple trees have been on the property for at least 30 years and it was obvious that they were neglected. There were gaps in the orchard where trees were removed and the few apples that were on the trees were out of reach.

Canopy of large apple tree last summer.

Eli (who secretly wanted us to tell him to get a root rake and remove the trees) was surprised when Dr. McArtney was optimistic about the apple trees. With a little T.L.C (and a lot of pruning), the orchard could be revitalized.

The revitalization would be a multi-year project, but was manageable for a small orchard. The first step would be spent on reducing height of the tree. The next step would be spent pruning out lower and unhealthy limbs.

This winter we are tackling step one: deciding which limbs would be pruned out and then removing them. The goal was to reduce tree height and encourage horizontal, rather than vertical growth.

Pink Ribbons designate which limbs will be pruned (above).

Royce the fearless arborist, prepares for pruning (above).

The Biltmore Estate has a wonderful crew of arborists, led by their fearless leader, Bill. The crew works 10-hour days and have been busy removing damaged trees from our recent ice and snow storms here in WNC. I joked with them that they must all be "really good eaters" because of all the physical labor they do. Royce responded with an "oh yeah!"

Royce begins the "big cuts" (above).

Royce cuts through that apple tree trunk like a knife through butter (above).

Tossing those limbs to the side (above). That is not an easy job.

Royce take a much deserved rest after tackling that tree (above).

Above you see the final product after pruning. Looks sad, but remember, this is a happy story of revitalization!

The wounds were painted with NAA, a growth hormone that is applied to help prevent the formation of water sprouts from the trunks (above).

Look at how much got pruned out! (above and below). That was just one tree!

My job was to be a "brush-dragger". I think I was pretty good at it. Though this week we were pulling brush down a hill. The other side of the orchard will require dragging up hill!

The pruned out limbs were destined for the chipper (above).

Some of the large cuts of wood (above) are headed to the kitchen to make some apple wood smoked delicacies.

Some trees were not going to make it, so Eli flagged them with the "florescent pink ribbon of death" (above). Below you can see one of these poor trees meeting its demise.

Eli got to pull the rope on this tree, but I got to do one too! It is very empowering to pull down a tree with a rope.

So the first step of the orchard revitalization is underway! I can't wait to see what these trees look like and produce this summer. I will certainly keep you updated. In a few years this orchard will be revitalized- I can't wait!

My hard hat goes off to the crew at Biltmore Estate! They are a great and organized group to work with. Maybe next time I can convince them to let me handle one of these puppies!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sunburst Trout Farm Tour

Last Wednesday, as part of the Business Side of Agritourism Workshop, we held a pre-conference tour of Sunburst Trout Farm in Canton, NC.

It was awesome!

Chris was our tour guide. He has been with Sunburst since 1992 and started by showing us the processing facility. It takes only 55 minutes from pond to cooler. You can read about the entire process here. Below is Chris showing us the de-heading machine.

At Sunburst, they can process up to 6,000 lbs. of trout/day during the very busy season. They bring the fish in large buckets from the raceways and transport them the very short ride in the bed of a pick up. After they are de-headed, they go through the filleting machine (Below).

The ideal size of a trout that is harvested results in two 8 oz fillets. The filet machine also takes care of most of the bones, even the pin bones. The few remaining bones are processed by hand.

The scales are removed with some really cool-looking gloves (Below). They remind me of the late, great Michael Jackson (who, coincidently there is a picture of in the Sunburst Trout main office).

Next we toured the commercial kitchen. Sunburst Trout makes some unique value-added products like delicious trout dip, cavier, smoked trout and trout sausage.

We got to meet, Charlie (Below), the inventor of the trout jerky and award-winning smoked tomato jam.

Charlie does research and development at the trout farm and we are all very grateful for his delicious trout jerky (Below). It may look funny, but man is it tasty! I had more than my share.

Then, we were out to the raceways to enjoy the beautiful day and to see the rest of the operation.

Sunburst Trout purchases their fish from local producers and tranport them in this awesome truck. Chris let us know that this has saved them time (and their backs) from manually loading heavy buckets of fish a few years ago.

The trout farm was established in 1948! The raceways are fed with water from the pristine mountain water directly from the protected Shining Rock Wilderness area in Pisgah National Forest.

We even got to go out on the raceways and feed the trout.

The trout get so excited when you feed them.

I wish my camera could have captured how beautiful these rainbow trout are!

Finally, we got to see where all of the fish remains end up. Sunburst has a forced-air composting system that is specifically used for animals. This system speeds up the processing by 2/3 with no turning needed! Check out this private website on forced-air systems. (In no way am I advertising, but they do a great job explaining the process.)

The result is a great compost that Sunburst sells to local gardeners and farmers. We didn't get very close because, according to Chris, the smell stays on your shoes for 6 months.

As you can tell, the tour was awesome. The Sunburst Trout Farm does an amazing job growing fish and making their products. Ask for them in a grocery store near you!

Monday, February 1, 2010

American Vegetable Growers E-News, Jan. 28

There are some very interesting articles in the American Vegetable Growers E-News, Jan. 28

N.C. MarketReady Announces Spring Cost Share Cycle for Value-Added Equipment

The North Carolina Value-Added Cost Share (NCVACS) program, administered by N.C. MarketReady, is now accepting applications for the spring funding cycle, Equipment Cost Share. This program is funded by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission to support the development of value-added agricultural operations, an emerging sector of North Carolina agriculture.

The NCVACS program works hand-in-hand with the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) by reducing the costs associated with professional services and equipment purchases that are not funded by the USDA grant. The spring cost share cycle allows value-added producers to apply for equipment cost share funding. Applicants can seek to purchase new or used equipment with cost share funding. Equipment cost share awards will vary from 25 to 50 percent of the total cost of the equipment, up to a maximum of $25,000.

Applications for NCVACS Equipment, spring 2010, are now available online at Applications are due by March 30, 2010. Guidelines and a list of frequently asked questions can be found on the Web site. Award recipients will be notified by June 1, 2010.

For additional information, contact Brittany Whitmire, NCVACS program coordinator, N.C. State University N.C. MarketReady, 919-830-9557 or

NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council Meeting Feb. 2

The North Carolina Sustainable Local Food Council will meet for the first time Tuesday, Feb. 2 at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC. The council will meet from 2-4 pm in the Martin Building. The public is strongly encouraged to attend.

The advisory council was created by the NC General Assembly in August 2009 to study, develop and promote policies that will create jobs, support communities, preserve the natural environment, increase access to fresh and nutritious foods, and provide greater food security for all North Carolinians. The 27-person council includes appointees by Governor Bev Purdue, President Po Tempore Marc Basnight, Speaker Joe Hackney and Agricultural Commissioner Steve Troxler.

"The council is purposely diverse," said Dr. Nancy Creamer, executive director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and a council appointee. "By ensuring that the many organizations and individuals are at the same table, the council;s ability to effectively engage policy-makers and community leaders across the state to support a local sustainble food economy in North Carolina is much greater."

"Hundreds of individulas and organization have worked to establish and support local food economies," said Representative Ray Rapp. "Tuesday's meeting will begin to lay out the state's vision and role to support existing efforts, of which there are many, and to encourage new endeavors and ideas." Rep. Rapp and Senator Charlie Albertson championed the legislation in the General Assembly.

The creation of the council is one result of the ongoing CEFS "Farm to Fork" statewide initiative to develop a Statewide Action Plan to build a sustainable local food economy. The Action Plan is expected to be released in March 2010. For a complete listing of council appointees, visit the CEFS website NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council page.

CEFS develops and promotes a farm-to-fork approach to agriculture and food choices that protects the environment, strengthens local communities, and provides economic opportunities through research, education, outreach and marketing innovations.